We have all seen the photo in his dress blues smooching a nurse in white as everyone in New York City’s Time’s Square parties hardy upon the news that the war with Japan –and World War 2 as a whole-was now over.
Contrast this image with the Bill Mauldin cartoon reproduced in this book where two bearded, hollow-eyed combat veterans (plus a clean-shaven one with equally hollow eyes) just back home on a pier listen to a civilian gush about the pleasures of V-J Day and how they should have been there for it. The look in the combat men’s eyes speak volumes about the point argued by Todd DePastino in his introduction to this book: none of the American military personnel out partying on V-J such as the sailor in the famous photo had ever been overseas, much less been in combat; and that the few combat men home did not go out and join the party due to survivor’s guilt.
While Pastino perhaps cuts things a bit too fine here here (I know of a combat-hardened fighter pilot who flew with the famed “Pappy” Boyington who recalls in the book Once They Were Eagles that he had a pleasant VJ Day) it still is a valid argument when one contemplates the Bill Mauldin cartoon mentioned above that he drew which contrasts the vast gulf between feelings felt by those at home and those that had been to hell and back (it can be found on page 42.)
Interestingly enough, while this collection’s title touts “Willie and Joe” in it, Bill’s fabled cartoon dogfaces now back in civilian life with the debut of Bill’s “Back Home” comic strip on July 31st, 1945 (in which Willie and Joe can’t get a lift from an officer whose car is listed as belonging to “Fort Flux.”) only regularly appeared for a short time until they all but faded out of the strip when Bill switched more and more to an editorial stance which lashed out at the likes of the Ku Kux Klan (for which I think Bill ought to be given a posthumous award: I hate the KKK!), corrupt politicians, the stuffy inflexibility and excesses of the American Legion, civil rights, and “Red” scares that dominated immediate postwar life, among other things. As De Pastino notes in his introduction, this led to “Back Home” being dropped by hundreds of papers until Bill’s contract was finally up in April of 1948. I myself applaud him for his hard-line stance against such postwar hypocrisy and admire the man more than ever because of it.
There is much, much more in this book, so much it would take forever to list it out, so instead I’d heartily recommend it to one and all curious to know the full story behind when Willie and Joe came home.